Cover The sculptural staircase pierces through the centre of the home

Nicknamed Wonky Woo for its original dilapidated state, this transformed terrace in suburban Kuala Lumpur showcases a design that complements the existing hilly landscape

The ubiquitous terrace house has been the protagonist of many amazing transformations of late, and this two-storey house in Taman Seputeh, a suburb in Kuala Lumpur is the site of yet another dramatic overhaul.

Affectionately named Wonky Woo for the appalling state they found it in, the owners are a British ex-pat couple, Simon and Sue Watts, who has lived overseas in various countries for most of their adult lives.

After buying the extremely dilapidated house, they needed someone they could work with to give it a new life and were referred to Tony Heneberry of Two’s Company. "The choice of the property was the owners, not mine, but it is a type of project I am very comfortable with as I have done many link house transformations," explains Heneberry.

"The original house was in a shocking condition but the Watts could see past that and realised that being a particularly long block, for a link house with a very open aspect to the area, it had great potential."

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The house has a total build-up area of about 3,000 sq ft on four split levels and, in effect, is a two-storey house with the front half split from the rear and sitting about 5 ft higher than the rear.

A major renovation was needed, so the house was stripped back to its skeleton and enlarged in the front and back with a retaining wall structure to raise the slope to the rear, into which was built a plunge pool with a home workshop underneath.

"The aspect to the rear offered a huge opportunity to give this space a sense of light and distance that is normally hard to achieve in an intermediate link house. Hence the design goal became about how to maximise these features while designing out the poor aspect of the front and improving the light and airflow into a long narrow house. It was important to recover good proportions as well. In this respect, the split levels became an asset rather than a problem," says Heneberry.

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Heneberry mainly used soft, neutral tones to create a calm, bright space. The material palette was kept simple and natural with plenty of wood, cement and concrete accents and tiling, with a lot of glass wherever possible to maximise the flow of light and air through the house.

"These neutrals also allowed the owners' personal touches to be highlighted without having to fight for too much attention with statement design features," enthuses Heneberry. "Rather, the design was aimed at making statements of the aspect and the views as well as the owners' many personal touches, whilst providing an elegant, understated atmosphere through the architectural choices."

Several details further create the desired mood throughout the house with the more prominent architectural details, including the screening outside the first-floor front bedrooms, the small pond right outside the front door and windows, the large skylight spreading light down through the centre of the house, the bath on the master suite verandah, and the pool to the rear garden.

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"In addition, many small interior design details add to the texture such as the brass towel hooks in the guest bathrooms, the polished concrete kitchen counter, the farmer's sink on the counter, and the green elements throughout, including the large potted tree under the skylight," muses Heneberry.

"The master wardrobe and changing area also open out to the lightwell with large folding glass doors. It is an unusual and unexpected feature but has a charming effect on the space."

Indeed every effort was made to make the most of the exterior views while maintaining the home's privacy and creating a lush green oasis within the property. "I am well-known for blurring the lines between inside and outside in my projects. Hence, the landscape was part of the reason the owners wanted me to design the property for them," says Heneberry.

"Framing the views of the hills in the distance as well as creating transitions and visual connection to these views with the landscape features was part of the design thinking from the outset."

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Considering the impressive transformation, it's hard to imagine that Wonky Woo was ever, well, so wonky.

Heneberry's approach and experience in houses of this type played a role: "All such conversions have many technical and creative challenges. However, I have done quite a lot of these, and it's all just part of a day's work at this stage. These projects are a puzzle, where many factors need to be balanced, such as the setting, the owners' needs, their preferences and sensitivities, and the budget. It is always satisfying when the puzzle is solved as it was in this case."

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